Guadeloupy!

Posted June 2nd, 2012 by Nick and filed in Uncategorized


Nick playing with parrots, originally uploaded by melandnick.

In the last post, you’ll have read Nick’s account of his appendicitis. This post will describe what I was doing whilst Nick was in hospital being looked after by pretty nurses, and what we did for 4 weeks in Guadeloupe whilst he was getting well enough to sail again.

To pick up where I left off in my blog about Les Saintes, we went to the doctor, and she decided to have him sent immediately to Guadeloupe, the parent island of Les Saintes, where there is a hospital with equipment to scan him to provide an accurate diagnosis, and if necessary, operate. Within 30mins of us being inside the doctor’s office, Nick was on his way to Guadeloupe on a speed boat full of paramedics and I was waving goodbye to him on the dock, worrying about two things, firstly Nick, hoping he was going to be ok, and secondly about me, what the hell was I going to do now? How was I going to see him and what was I going to do with the boat? Although I’ve sailed with Nick to the Caribbean, and have plenty of sailing experience, I’ve never sailed the boat alone, and really didn’t want to start now under these circumstances.

To my rescue (literally) came our friends from Germany, Robert & Anna, and Mike and Katja (with their son Nicklaus). They knew we were going to the doctors and our fears of appendicitis and were waiting for us to inform them of what happened. From the ferry dock, I started to walk back to Borne, at anchor a little over a mile away; I was pleased for the time to get my thoughts together before having to do anything. Halfway back, I contacted our friends anchored across the bay using our mobile VHF, and explained to them the situation, that Nick was on his way to hospital and there was a good chance he would have an operation there too. My suspicion is that Robert and Mike had already had a discussion about this eventually, as they immediately offered to accompany me and Borne to Basse Terre (the town on Guadeloupe where the hospital is). The alternative to this was leaving Borne at anchor and getting a ferry and bus to the hospital (round trip of several hours each day); I wanted to be with Nick asap so I took them up on the offer and agreed to meet them on Borne in about 30mins, by which time I should be back onboard.

I got to the dinghy dock in the anchorage where earlier that morning Nick and I had tied up to go to the doctors. The dinghy started and I began motoring out to Borne, but, I suppose due to my distressed state of mind, I’d left a rope in the water. The rope promptly wrapped itself around the dinghy’s prop, and the engine stopped. Our paddles don’t work as the mounts are broken, before I could think about what to do, I was being blow out to sea. After about a minute of panicking I realised the problem and managed to unwrap the rope and continue back to Borne (during which time another sailor was coming to check on me as it was obvious I was in trouble).

I finally arrived back onboard just as Mike and Robert arrived too. The three of us got to work packing up the boat ready to move to Guadeloupe. I explained that really I only needed one of them to come with me so we decided that Robert would come and Mike would stay with Anna and Katja in their anchorage.

30mins later, we’d lifted the anchor and were on our way. It took us about 2-3 hours to motor-sail to Guadeloupe, not bad. However, this bad day was about to get worse. We arrived at the Basse-Terre marina, to find it was closed for building works. There was a very rolly anchorage outside the marina they wanted us to move to, but for me alone onboard, being at anchor in this place was very undesirable. Robert was a super hero (not the only time in this story), and explained my situation and argued with the marina staff until they gave in and agreed for me to stay for 1 night only, having to move in the morning to the anchorage. We agreed, by this time it was about 5pm and Robert needed to get the last ferry back to Les Saintes, and I needed to get to the hospital to find out what was happening with Nick. Robert managed to get a taxi and I got a lift to the hospital with one of the kinder people working at the marina who I think took pity on me.

Upon arriving at the hospital, I was faced with my next challenge; how do I find Nick? It was Thursday before Easter weekend, and there was no one in sight other than a coffee bar manager. I walked over to him and miraculously he spoke quite good English. I explained the situation and he took me to admissions, spoke to them in French, found out where Nick’s room was, and then he took me there. Before he left I asked him if there would be any taxi’s to take me back to the marina for the night, and he said probably not, but for now I wasn’t worried because I wanted to see Nick.

Nick was in a bad way, he looked very ill, and I was really upset to see him like this. The scans showed it definitely was appendicitis and he was going to be operated on asap. I was pleased it had been diagnosed and he was going to be treated, but was worried as now he was going to have an operation! 20mins after I got there, he was taken into surgery, and I kissed him goodbye as he went into the operating room.

The coffee shop man reappeared and said that he had arranged for me to get a lift home with his car-share person, a nurse from the hospital, leaving in 30mins. I waited with him at the coffee shop, and he very kindly gave me a croissant, fruit salad and a water, I hadn’t realised I was starving and hadn’t eaten since breakfast. This man was one of the kindest people we’ve met on the trip and I am so grateful for everything he did to help me that day.

I got back to the marina, and was all alone without Nick for the first time on this trip. I think I was the only person in the whole marina as they were closed for business (except for me). That was a very lonely night, and I was worried about Nick and about having to move the boat to the anchorage in the morning.

Morning came and I was awake early. I got up and walked to the sea wall to look at the anchorage, it looked rolly with a big swell and I wasn’t keen to go out there with Borne. I saw the same man who gave me a lift to the hospital the previous day, and he said I could stay in the marina another night – hurrah! And I managed to get another lift to the hospital.

Seeing Nick in his post-op state was quite shocking. That morning he looked as though he has aged 10 years (he’s back to normal now), and he was very weak and still in considerable pain. That, in combination with my own worries brought tears to my eyes and it was then that I realised how close I had come to losing him and how lucky we were to be in French territory.

Whilst I was there the phone rang, and I answered it to find it was Robert! He called to see how Nick was, and to tell me that they (himself, Anna, Mike and Katja) were going to sail their boats to Guadeloupe to be with me while I was at anchor. This for me was a massive relief and a huge weight lifted knowing that I would have friends near to assist with looking after Borne. I left Nick around 2pm, and walked back to the marina along a coastal path. On the way, I saw Timpertee and Nubia sailing past (the two boats), and I thought I had missed them! I ran back to Borne in the marina and turned on the VHF radio and hailed Timpertee. Robert said that they were going to a better anchorage just north of Basse Terre which would be much safer than the one by the marina, then he and Mike would get a bus/taxi down to me and we’d all take Borne to meet the others.

Mike and Robert arrived as the sun was setting, they had some difficulty getting transport to me as it was Good Friday. I left 20 Euros for the marina in their letterbox with a short note, and we were off. We arrived in the new anchorage, Anse a la Banque, a couple of hours later and after some fun and games trying to lay the anchor (bad holding) we joined Katja, Anna and Nicklaus and we all ate pasta for dinner.

The next day we all hitch-hiked to the hospital to see Nick. The update from the surgeon was that because the appendix had burst, Nick would be in hospital for at least a week, and then would need several weeks of rest before flying, sailing or swimming. We were there for an hour, and then went into town to try to find an internet connection so we could make some plans. At this point I was considering moving Borne to Antigua which is the nearest open marina, and flying back to Guadeloupe to stay in a hotel until Nick was able to travel back there with me. Without the internet it would be impossible to work out my options, and we couldn’t find a connection anywhere in Basse Terre, which was quite unbelievable.

With no internet or shops in the anchorage we were located, it wasn’t going to be a place to stay for long. We made a plan to move the boats to Deshaies, which was further north (50k from Nick in Basse Terre), but with shops and internet connectivity. I didn’t want to be further away from Nick, but we needed to be somewhere sustainable, and we knew we could hire a car there too.

The next day (Easter Sunday) we moved, Katja and me on Borne, Anna with Mike and Nicklaus on Nubia, and Robert on his own on Timpertee. The conditions were very calm, and we motored to Deshaies in a couple of hours without incident. Mike jumped onboard to assist with anchoring when we got there.

At one point in the afternoon, the catamaran anchored in front of me seemed to get quite close, so I called over Robert and Anna, who let out more chain and we moved back, I thought that was the end of it. We made a plan to get together for Easter dinner that evening. There were turtles swimming in the bay, and at one point dolphins, and it seemed a really nice place to be.

We had a lovely Easter dinner on Timpertee. As I left, Robert and Anna said they would leave their VHF on overnight just in case. That night I fell asleep almost straight away, as I was exhausted from everything over the last few days. For some reason, at 4am I woke up, I sat up and looked out the window, and I saw the Catamaran in front was now less than a meter away and we were pointing in different directions, as soon as either of us swung, we would hit! I got up, stuck my head outside and confirmed my fears, I then radioed Robert and Anna explaining the situation and asked for their help. Within 60 seconds Robert (the superhero) dinghy’d over to Borne, and just as he arrived the Catamaran hit us. Luckily there was no wind, so it was only a light touch, but of course we had to move Borne to a new place in the harbour. Robert lifted the anchor (not an easy job for that time of day, and probably impossible for me to do alone), and we moved Borne to a safer spot and dropped anchor.

Needless to say, I didn’t get back to sleep that night. I was still very worried for Nick (and wasn’t able to see him for another 2 days, although I could call), and I was feeling very sorry for myself in this seemingly helpless situation, which is not something I’m used to. I had a bit of a cry, then pulled myself together and made myself a cup of tea and some breakfast.

The sun rose, and Mike was up to check my anchor, and also that of the Catamaran. It turned out that the catamaran had dragged during the night so the collision was their fault (although they did nothing about it). In my new location, the anchor was not dug in, and was caught on a rock, so once more we needed to move and re-anchor. Mike and Robert jumped onboard, and we moved Borne again to a better part of the anchorage where there was sand underneath. Just as we lifted the anchor, the heavens opened and it rained buckets the whole time we were doing this. Just as the anchor set, the rain stopped – typical of my luck over these days! I spent the day drying out, getting some food from town, and tidying up, then called Nick at the hospital. He was in good spirits, and was already getting bored with being there – a good sign! Everyone came on to Borne for a beer as the sunset, and we tried to see the green flash, I’m not sure if anyone saw it! Then we headed into town to get pizza for dinner, however, the only Pizza restaurant we could get a table didn’t serve pizza that day (the waitress told us we could only buy pizza in a 15 minute time window, and we didn’t really understand this rather bizarre concept, and subsequently arrived too late to get the pizza). So, we decided to attempt to get pizza the next day and went back to our boats.

The next morning (now Tuesday), Guadeloupe came to life after the bank holiday weekend, and we managed to hire a car. All 6 of us climbed into a ford fiesta, and made the 1.5hr journey on long and very winding roads south to Basse Terre. We all dropped into see Nick and I stayed there while the others went to see La Soufriere, the volcano, not too far away. Nick was looking much better than when I’d last seen him, and we spent the day together watching movies on the laptop and chatting. By now, Nick was sick of the food, and had decided that no matter what he would be out by the end of the week!

On the way home we all discussed the options, and decided to wait in Deshaies together until the end of the week, and hope Nick would be out. This would avoid having to move the boat to Antigua. I took the car the next day alone to the hospital, and this was the first time I drove on the right hand side, what a laugh! I hit the curb several times on that first trip, but managed to say on the road when driving past cliffs etc, so that’s the important thing!

The rest of the week went quickly. On Weds, Mike and Katja had a new weather report for the coming days, and they needed to leave Guadeloupe on the Friday to ensure a safe crossing to Antigua, after this time the wind would pickup. I went to see Nick on Thursday, and he was told he could leave on Friday. I broke Nick out of hospital and took him to the nearby supermarket and brought a roasted chicken and some cheese and bread (Nick couldn’t eat hospital food any more), and that night I had permission to sleep on of the chairs in his room. First thing in the morning we were up and out of there on condition we returned in 2 days at 7am to see the surgeon for a check up.

We arrived back in Deshaies on Friday morning, but not early enough to see Mike and Katja off. Anna and Robert were still there, so we had tea with them on board, and arranged to meet for dinner later, as they were leaving the next day.

The day after Robert and Anna left, there was a storm, and winds were up to 35kts in the anchorage – it was rough! Happily for us, the anchor held us well, and we were comfortable onboard, apart from nearly loosing the bimini I’d made in Gomera that Nick managed to rescue from being blown out to sea.

Apart from this, the next few weeks in Deshaies were pretty quiet. Nick and I took a car to the hospital every other day for the first 10 days or so for his wound to be checked and dressings changed. This was a tiresome trip by the end as we would need to be up at 5am to be there for 7am. After about 4 of these journeys, the surgeon was happy for Nicks wound to be dealt with locally, and we found a nurse’s office a short walk down the road, and went to see them every other day instead, which was much more convenient and cheaper than hiring a car! Everyday Nick grew stronger, and his pain got less and less.

Whilst we were in Deshaies, we met up with existing friends on Hitch-Hike Heidi and Vrijheid who were passing through, and made some new friends, Abby and Tom, on Bloom, with whom we spent a couple of lovely evenings.

We took the opportunity to explore locally, and went to the botanical gardens up the road which had very cute parrots that were quite happy to walk up your arms and stand on your head! We also took a really nice walk up and around the headland on the other side of which was a huge beautiful beach. We also took a trip to Pont-a-Pitre, the largest city in Guadeloupe, to buy a new battery for the boat as our old ones were no longer holding charge.

We ate out a lot to break up the monotony of being onboard (and the local supermarket had limited choice), and found a couple of great restaurants in town where we became regulars (Savannah – great for steaks and fish, and a Pizza restaurant just down the street from there with blue shutters).

The biggest sign for me that Nick was nearly better was that a week or so before we left, he started fishing again. He had seen big King Fish (a.k.a. Cero’s) jumping in the harbour and decided he was going to catch one! For many days Nick was catching live bait from the boat, and attaching them to big hooks over night waiting for one of his prize fish to bite…when this failed, he changed tactics and migrated to trawling from the dinghy at dusk. However, his attempts weren’t to be rewarded, as the King Fish eluded him, and won the battle, much to Nick’s frustration and disappointment (especially when the locals were catching them nearly every day using the same methods). But it kept him busy and I’m sure the activity helped him get better more quickly.

Finally the time came for us to take one last trip to Basse Terre for Nick to see the surgeon and hopefully get the all clear to sail, as we have an appointment in the US Virgin Islands to get the boat shipped back to the UK on 16th May (now moved back to 26th May, but we didn’t know that at the time).

The ‘All clear’ was finally given, and at last Nick was officially well again, still with a small wound, but much, much better. We stocked up on supplies in Basse Terre before heading back to Deshaies. We then waited another couple of days for wind before leaving and set sail for our last destination on this trip, the Virgin Islands.